Foodbank’s Western Tidewater Branch opens in Franklin

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2022

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The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore held the grand opening of its Franklin-based Western Tidewater Branch on Thursday, Sept. 15.

A Foodbank news release noted that the facility, located at 618 South St., is a nearly 17,000-square-foot building housing a fully equipped warehouse featuring walk-in refrigerators and freezers and dry storage capacity that can accommodate up to 48 pallets — or 96,000 pounds — of dry, shelf-stable foods.

Additionally, the new branch facility features a marketplace where neighbors experiencing food insecurity can “shop” for dairy, meat and fresh produce in a farmer’s market-style shopping area, providing the dignity of a client-choice shopping experience, the release stated. On its second story, the building also houses numerous classroom and meeting spaces, plus a computer lab to support programs designed to address the root causes of food insecurity, namely employment, health care and nutrition, education, housing, and financial literacy.

“This is indeed a great day for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, for our Western Tidewater service area and for the city of Franklin,” Foodbank President and CEO Christopher Tan said Thursday shortly before the building’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This facility stands as one of the proudest achievements to date for so many reasons. This building is one of the largest capital investments in the 40-plus-year history of the Foodbank. It also completes the final piece of our Foodbank service area puzzle, ensuring that there’s a Foodbank facility within 50 miles of every neighbor in need.”

The Foodbank news release stated that the Western Tidewater Branch was established to provide enhanced services to the region and target families facing food insecurity in the rural communities of Franklin and Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Sussex. The opening of this new branch marks a major milestone in the Foodbank’s ability to address food insecurity in the region, enabling the more than 30 partner agencies in Western Tidewater the ability to access a Foodbank warehouse — which supplies food supporting local church and community-based food pantries and soup kitchens — in less than 50 minutes.

During his remarks, Tan, who joined the Foodbank team a few months ago, noted that every project must have a vision and, more importantly, a visionary, and he highlighted how the visionary leader who helped make the new Western Tidewater Branch possible was former Foodbank President and CEO Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols, who was on hand Thursday.

“Dr. Jones Nichols, with Judge Alfreda Talton-Harris and the First Baptist Church, looked beyond the building in need of much repair and dreamed of the facility that you will see today,” Tan said. “The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and our neighbors in need in Western Tidewater owe you a debt of gratitude, and on behalf of them, I want to say a very heartfelt ‘thank you.’”

He said he would be remiss if he did not recognize some of the Foodbank’s most dedicated partners and supporters that played key roles in the creation of the new facility.

Tan stated that the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development was a lead investor in the Foodbank’s work in Western Tidewater. 

The Foodbank release indicated that VDHCD supported the new branch project with $2 million.

Helping navigate the bureaucratic hurdles of the project was Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt, Tan said. And the generosity of The Obici Healthcare Foundation and the Hubbard Peanut Company enabled the Foodbank to establish temporary facilities while the work of design and renovation was underway on the new branch.

Also making the new facility possible were Hampton Roads Ventures, the First Baptist Church of Franklin, and the Camp, Landmark and Truist foundations, the Foodbank release stated. 

The release noted that The Obici Healthcare Foundation has provided $600,000 in grants over the past three years.

That foundation’s president and CEO, R. Battle Betts Jr., delivered remarks Thursday, sharing that the organization was honored to be a part of the grand opening ribbon-cutting celebration.

“Several members of our team and our board of directors are here this morning to offer our support and sincere gratitude to you for rising to the challenge to meet the food security needs of our most vulnerable communities,” he said. 

He stated that food security is one of the largest drivers and a foundational component of the social determinants of health. 

“Food costs today are continuing to rise and are making more and more people become increasingly unable to afford to feed themselves and their families,” he said. “This facility will greatly increase food distribution capacity and provide greater access to healthy foods to those that need it most.”

Making possible the programs and services offered at the Foodbank’s Western Tidewater Branch are a notable list of community partners.

Providing help with employment are FreshSkills and Virginia Career Works; providing help with housing is the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project Inc.; providing help with health care are STOP Inc., the Virginia Department of Health’s Western Tidewater Health District and Bon Secours Southampton Medical Center; providing help with financial literacy is Bronco Federal Credit Union; providing help with nutrition and wellness is the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program; and providing help with human services are Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater, The Children’s Center and the Foodbank.

Tan thanked elected officials for their support. 

Among the local elected officials on hand was Franklin Mayor Frank M. Rabil, who spoke briefly.

“What a great facility this is going to be, what a great community asset it’s going to be for all of us here in Western Tidewater,” he said. “The Foodbank should be really proud of what they’ve accomplished. We are glad to have you here in the city, we welcome you, and we look forward to a long relationship.”

Among the congressional representatives present were Del. Clinton L. Jenkins, of the 76th District, and Del. H. Otto Wachsmann Jr., of the 75th District.

“Collaboration has been the key to creating lasting change,” Tan said as he stood next to the new facility. “Together with other nonprofits, service organizations and community leaders who serve on the Western Tidewater Community Collaboration Planning Team, we were able to make this dream a reality. I want to thank each member of the planning team for your support and for your leadership.

“Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I want to thank the staff who made this building possible and this day possible,” he added. “There are too many of you to mention by name, but please know that today is your day, and know that today we celebrate the harvest of your labor.”

Helping lead the staff locally is Western Tidewater Branch Manager Clifford Hedgspeth Sr. and Community Impact Coordinator Teri Zurfluh.

Western Tidewater community volunteer Janet Stokes briefly spoke to the sizeable crowd present Thursday for the grand opening.

“It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood,” she said. “I am so glad to be here, and we are so proud of the Foodbank.”

She highlighted how the Foodbank is making a positive difference but that help is needed to make the Western Tidewater Branch a success. She said those who are retired, like her, can help by volunteering, while those still working can help financially with donations.

“Together we can accomplish much,” she said before saying directly to the crowd, “I need that answer. Are you willing to help?”

“Yes!” was the definitive reply from the crowd.

“We thank you for your help,” she said, “so let’s get together and work to make this succeed.”

Moments before the ribbon cutting, First Baptist Church of Franklin Senior Pastor Marcus Jennings offered a prayer, dedicating the building.

“Gracious God and creator of all, today we pause to offer you our thanks for the work you have accomplished through your humble servants,” he said. “May those who see and benefit from this good work glorify you in heaven. May this site at 618 South St. stand as a perpetual beacon of hope.”

After the ribbon cutting, volunteers, including regional leaders, participated in a service project in the facility’s warehouse, packing bags for the Foodbank’s BackPack Program. The program provides weekend meals to more than 4,000 children per school year across the region who are experiencing food insecurity.